The following post is a reflection I wrote about my Fall 2011 internship experience. It was composed in early December, and my projects are now fully complete.
SPLAC: Small Private Liberal Arts College (I don’t think this acronym is in heavy rotation, but what a shame.)
I spent Fall 2011 interning at Willamette University in Salem, OR. I spent one day a week over the quarter working in the Office of Student Activities, a centrally-located office housing administrators over-seeing various campus functions. OSA additionally functions as a hub for student interactions, with various student leaders coming in throughout the day to complete tasks, hold office hours, and generally catch up with each other.
One of my main goals with this internship was to gain a better understanding of the environment found at a small private university. My background in education has always been public, from K through grad school. My undergraduate university was mid-sized, with about 13,000 students total; my graduate institute currently enrolls about 24,000 students. By comparison, WU has about 2,800 students currently enrolled. How does a small population affect the campus atmosphere? I noticed that the smaller physical layout of campus allows staff, faculty, and students to pass familiar faces often. As a result, I observed folks carrying on conversations that would last several minutes when each party was simply walking to a class or a meeting or running some other errand. People know each other on WU’s campus, possibly from a combination of housing, small classes, programs and organizations, as well as seeing each other while passing through campus. This creates a comfortable atmosphere, and the campus culture seems to be very friendly and accommodating.
A concern I have for myself, in terms of functioning within a smaller campus population and environment, is that I seem to embrace a degree of anonymity. (In other words, I feel like I can flourish by breaking through the walls that students may perceive in certain organizations.) My personality and goals seem to align well with community colleges and mid- to large-sized public universities; this is something that I have been hoping to determine since starting the CSSA program. I originally thought a smaller environment would suit me the best, but as a high school classmate said (who, incidentally, goes to WU), “It can be a bit cliquey, and ‘high school drama’ tends to manifest.” I can observe how that would be possible, and I am not sure that would fit well with where I am in personal development. However, I had a positive experience at WU and could very well adjust to the right small institution in the future; nothing is ruled out!
Another key piece in this internship was improving my familiarity with technology. Main components of the technology piece included the following: (a) updating and editing WU webpages; (b) using Prezi to develop a final document; and (c) navigating Google Docs in the context of higher education (since I am trained in Microsoft Office in previous work environments).Through my internship, I was able to learn how to use WU’s web editor, which helped me build upon my knowledge of editing websites. I have some previous experience through my position as the NASPA International Education Knowledge Community’s Technology Chair, and regularly update our site by using SavvyTools. In comparison to that software, WU’s editor is more user-friendly, and works across multiple platforms. Since I work off of a Mac primarily, I appreciate software that accounts for this and allows me to continue to be effective in my work. I am still in the process of identifying pieces of the WU OSA webpage that could use some touch-ups, and I hope to have those pieces complete by the time I depart for winter break.
I gauged which changes were necessary for the website by reviewing peer and aspirant institutions’ pages, as well as talking to students about what they would have liked to see. Overall, websites tend to list too much information, making it hard for students to find what they need. Items are sometimes in hard-to-find or non-intuitive locations. A hearty reorganization and paring-down effort is necessary to bring WU’s OSA page up-to-date; luckily, as I have often said, its interface is already light years ahead of some institutions’ pages–one of which was literally a big block of text without any hyperlinks or guidance.
The largest component of my internship was my assessment of student organization advising. My project focused around identifying best practices in advising student organizations, along with developing working documents in order to address existing areas of opportunity. The biggest divergence in advising student organizations at WU is found in whether or not an advisor oversees organizations as part of his or her job description. Advisors that have dedicated time for advising meet and/or communicate with students more often, find more scheduled time to attend and support events and activities, and overall express a calmer demeanor toward the advising functions. Advisors that do the job on a voluntary basis seem a bit more detached, although that is often due to the type of organization with which they are involved. However, what was consistent was a sentiment that there was not adequate time in advisors’ schedules to communicate and meet with students; their professional schedules, along with students’ class schedules, do not allow for time away from essential job functions.
One advisor who also is a faculty member suggested that WU re-evaluate requirements for tenure-track professionals. She stated that perhaps, given WU’s position as a liberal arts college, professors could be able to use advising a student organization as a type of fulfillment towards tenure. This would dually allow advisors more time to tend to advising needs, thereby allowing students more interaction and hopefully better support.
I am designing a Prezi to function as the focal point of administering a training session for advisors. Advisors, often times, are not up-to-date with materials, where things are located, or how to best communicate with their clubs. A Prezi allows advisors a fun and engaging way to get updated on advising, as it serves to deliver information in a way that is more dynamic than email. An electronic format, furthermore, allows flexibility; this is crucial since many advisors are already pressed for time with other job functions.
This has been a very good experience for a term. I have learned more about current technology, small colleges, advising, and assessment. I have been immersed in a new campus culture, and I am happy with the experience. I now have new perspectives to add to my personal skills. I envision that the ability to understand how to best support student organizations will allow me to be an effective and engaged advisor in the future.